Art Walk Moves Indoors; Some Jacksonville Artists Push Back

Sep 6, 2017

Some Jacksonville artists are pushing back against changes to the monthly downtown Art Walk that require them, along with all programming, to move indoors.

The change is happening after street protests at the August event. However, organizers said the changes were in the works anyway.

Art Walk artists must now set up inside private spaces, like The Carling, instead of in Hemming Park or on sidewalks. That’s after, police said, protests over Confederate monuments crowded sidewalks last month.  

Jake Gordon, who’s CEO of Art Walk organizer Downtown Vision, said his nonprofit made the decision alongside the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

“JSO has a very difficult job,” he said. “If you look around the country at all these bigger events, from marathons or others, you need to make sure that people are safe, and if even one person gets hurt, that’s unacceptable.”

Two teenagers were shot during Art Walk in January.

Gordon said Downtown Vision, which is funded by downtown businesses, supports the indoor shift for reasons beyond safety concerns. He said not enough people are buying art or going into local businesses amidst what’s become a big, raucous gathering.

“One of the things we’ve always wanted to try was try to go back to basics about how we could promote the businesses, promote the artists and also promote downtown without having that be eclipsed by a giant street party,” Gordon said.

Hope McMath, an activist who takes issue with the changes, has been meeting with local artists to talk about peacefully “taking Art Walk back,” she said. But she does acknowledge some changes should probably me made.

“I do think what is suspect at the moment is these changes’ being made at a time where the Confederate protests are happening in the middle of the park,” McMath said. "I’m concerned we have actually given the credit to the Confederates and pushed the artists inside."

She argued activism and art have always been a part of Art Walk, from political campaigning to gathering petition signatures.

“The making of art is a political act,” she said. “It is the epitome of the first of amendment and freedom of expression.”

On Tuesday she was at her Riverside gallery space, Yellow House, which also serves as a meeting place where art and activism converge.

She pointed out a series of paintings in her gallery that depict the Confederate monument in Hemming Park.

Pointing to one painted by local artist Margete Griffin, she said, “(The monument) is toppling over and being taken over by birds of peace.”

Gordon said next month’s Oktoberfest edition will be a big festival as usual. But, as for future Art Walks, he said the format hasn’t been decided. He said he’ll be analyzing feedback from businesses and artists to make a decision.

Corrected: A previous version of this story incorrectly said a teenager was fatally shot during Art Walk. The two who were shot survived. 

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.